During his first — and the nation's first — State of the Union address, President George Washington urges the young nation to encourage the sciences and literature, calling knowledge "the surest basis for public happiness."
He also called for importing "useful inventions from abroad" while encouraging homegrown genius to flourish, by means of offering patent protection for inventors.
Attaching importance to the study of science and literature reflected not only Washington's views, but the general attitude of the gentry toward classical education. The Founding Fathers, most of who came from this class, were children of the Enlightenment
, the philosophy of rationalism that rose in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Faith in science was a central pillar of that philosophy.
, of course, was also looking to the country's economic future, not to mention its military security.
Washington, who delivered his address
at Federal Hall in New York City, saw these kinds of presidential pronouncements as a unifying force
. He was also fulfilling his obligation to the Constitution, which stipulates that the president "shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."
That first address was focused very much on the business of nation-building. Among Washington's other suggestions:
- The establishment of a strong standing army. ("To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.")
- The establishment of a national university to bind the "seminaries of learning already established."
- That the government should be able to "distinguish between oppression and necessary exercise of lawful authority."
- To welcome immigration as a means of helping the country grow.
- To provide a means of "pacifying" restive Indian tribes posing a threat to settlers encroaching on their lands.
In response to Washington's request , Congress passed a patent act. Washington signed it into law April 10, and the United States granted its first patent
July 31, 1790.
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